CPJ demands release of Muhammad Bekjan

Muhammad Bekjan in prison in 2003
The New York-based NGO, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), says it is outraged by the new five-year prison sentence handed down to Muhammad Bekjan, editor of the Erk opposition newspaper in Uzbekistan, just days before he was due to be released from prison.

The CPJ is calling on the Uzbek authorities to release Bekjan and to punish those responsible for torturing him while he was awaiting trial in 1999.

"This is a blatantly politicized new prison term levied against Muhammad Bekjan, who should not have served even a single day in prison," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said.

CPJ experts describe Islam Karimov’s government as an authoritarian regime, and say the country has the dishonourable reputation of being the top jailer of journalists in Central Asia.

"If Uzbekistan is to rejoin the international community, authorities must release all the journalists they are currently holding in retaliation for their work," Ognianova said.

Muhammad Bekjan is the brother of Muhamma Solikh, the exiled leader of the Erk opposition party. Until his arrest Bekjan was the editor in chief of the opposition party’s newspaper, Erk, which was set up in 1990.

After acts of terrorism were carried out in Tashkent in February 1999, Bekjan was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In 2003, under an amnesty, the sentence was reduced by three years and eight months.

In December 2011, governors of the prison where Bekjan is being held, fabricated a case against him saying his behaviour in prison had violated article 221 of the Criminal Code. On 24th January this year, the court in Kasan in Kashkdarya region, decided to punish this infringement with another five-year prison term.

Mukhammad Bekjan worked on the Erk paper with two of his brothers, Rashid and Kamil. They were also given long prison sentences. Kamil was released in 2003 under a prisoner amnesty. Rashid was freed in March 2011.